Elaine and Roger Haydock: Toy Story, Chicago romance edition

Elaine Reck was minding her own business, standing in the cashier line at FAO Schwarz waiting to buy a stuffed gorilla.

It was the morning of Dec. 14, 1995, and she wasn't paying much attention to anything until the customer in front of her handed the clerk two Buzz Lightyear watches and asked, "Do these watches fit adult wrists?"

"I just blurt out to him, 'Are you buying those for adults?' I thought it was so cute and he turns to me and he says, 'Yes, I am. Would you like one?' I say 'yes' — but he doesn't hand me one."

Instead they chatted a bit inside the store and then continued the conversation outside in the bitter cold wind off Lake Michigan. He said he was in town for just a few days and she told him she had to cut it short. She was on her way to her job.

"When I first saw her I was attracted to her and found out where she worked," explains Roger Haydock.

She told him she managed the Sony Gallery just down the street on Michigan Avenue and, in what both agree is one of the lamest pickup lines ever, he says, "I have a Sony TV."

Elaine was twice divorced and "I had just about five months earlier gotten out of a relationship and sworn off men. Echhhh. Enough."

So, "It was Merry Christmas. Nice to meet you. Have fun in Chicago and I went off on my merry way," she says.

"I waited a few hours. I didn't want to seem overly eager to rush down to the Sony Gallery," says Roger. He eventually went to the store that afternoon and asked for Elaine.

Roger was entranced. "The more we talked, the more interested I was in asking her out," he says.

How's this for a marginal idea for a first date? He invited her to his old high school's annual Christmas pageant that night. He came to the pageant every year from his home in Minnesota.

When he told her it was in the St. James Chapel at Quigley Preparatory Seminary, Elaine perked up. She had always wanted to see the chapel, which was then off-limits to drop-ins.

Roger, 50 at the time, picked her up at the store after work and they walked and talked their way to Quigley.

"It's a really cold night but the city is decorated and Chicago is so beautiful. (Even) on a bad day it's so romantic," says Elaine, who was then 45.

The Christmas pageant turned out to be the prelude to high Mass, a lengthy religious service of 90 minutes or so.

"I turned to him and said, 'You're so lucky I'm Catholic.'"

"Our first kiss was the kiss of peace" — during the long Mass in the chapel. "A peck on the cheek," she says. Then they had a late dinner at a little Italian place on the Gold Coast. "Something happened during dinner. It was when I realized, 'Oh my God, I want to be with this man.'"

Here's the OMG moment. When Elaine left to go to the restroom, she told Roger, "Don't go anywhere. I have questions for you.'" And when she returned he handed her his business card. (He's a law professor and law book author in St. Paul, Minn.) On the back, he'd written one-word answers like "yes" and "three."

Then he headed for the restroom, giving her time to come up with questions for his answers. For the answer "yes," she asked, "Have you ever been a woman?" The question for the answer "three" was, "How many times have you been convicted of a felony?"

"It was just one of those moments. It was kismet … I just realized, 'Oh my gosh, there is something about this man.' I was dazzled. I was swept off my feet by everything he did, everything he said. He had me laughing so hard. He was so bright. Like an apparition.

"I didn't believe a man like that existed. I also could tell he had a certain spark. He was wearing a lovely gray coat with one green sleeve and one purple sleeve and he was wearing bright purple gloves."

Roger, the divorced father of three, felt the same way about Elaine although he put it more succinctly: "I fell head over heels in love that night."

At the end of the evening, when he walked through the door of her condo on Elm Street, he said, "This is perfect. We'll get married at the chapel and we'll have the reception here."

And that turned out to be half true.

One year to the day of their chance meeting in the toy store, they walked again to St. James Chapel, a place of special significance to Roger both spiritually and emotionally. Roger took Elaine's hand, walked her down the aisle of the empty chapel and surprised her with a family diamond and a proposal.

Six months later, on June 21, 1997, they were married there with sunshine streaming through the spectacular stained-glass windows.

When the maid of honor, Elaine's sister, walked down the aisle, Roger saw she was holding that stuffed gorilla from FAO Schwarz. Around its neck, tied with a purple ribbon, were the two wedding rings.

And when it was time to exchange rings, Roger pulled a miniature FAO Schwarz shopping bag. Inside was the Buzz Lightyear watch. He placed it on her wrist.

Roger's prediction about the wedding site was right but the reception wasn't at Elaine's condo. Instead, they held it at the Sony store: a carnival theme party, including a fortuneteller and a balloon artist who made hats for everybody. In a dramatic flourish, the couple entered on Roger's white Harley-Davidson. Because the invite said "bowling shirts optional" Roger changed out of his tux to pose for photos.

By 1 a.m. the revelers were gone. Then Roger in his bowling shirt and Elaine in her ivory wedding dress (and Buzz Lightyear watch) walked up Michigan Avenue hand in hand, just the two of them.

Says Elaine: "Pure romance start to finish."


Love lesson

"One of the lessons for me is hope springs eternal," says Roger Haydock. "You will and can meet people who will enter your life, unpredictably, certainly unplanned for. That unexpected fate that brings you together is just phenomenal."

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